CHAPTER 22: A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
While the Smalleys are giving voice to the Christmas spirit, it's a rare moment of relative calm at the Ratchet house, where Betty is fussing with the baby. She doesn't notice Bob come in.
"Ho ho ho."
Betty looks up and smiles, pleased to see her husband home from work. "Oh, hi, honey. Did you get it?"
"Oh, goodie, I was afraid you weren't going to get a bonus this year, with the economy in the pits the way it is.""Well, it was there, waiting for me when I finished up for the day. But don't get your expectations up, it's likely to be less than last year, with things so slow at the shop."
"Didn't you look?"
"Nope. Thought I'd come home and get comfortable before I opened it."Betty comes over and sits beside him. "It will sure come in handy this year, with the energy bills so high and food prices jumping every time I go into the grocery store. I had to put all the Christmas presents on layaway."
"Well, what I've got in my hand should take care of that. And maybe we can even pay back that money we took out of the kids' college funds."
"You know, I was thinking, we should send your boss some cookies, and maybe a bottle of good wine. "
"I'm sure he'd like that. Okay, let's see what we've got here.." He rips open the envelope.
A long moment passes while Bob and Betty stare, trying to comprehend what Bob holds in his hand. What is not a bonus check, is pink, and comes in a plain envelope the day before Christmas Eve?
Both Betty and Bob's eyes stray to the Christmas tree, and the fireplace mantel where the children will hang their Christmas stockings the next night in hope that St. Nick soon will be there.Bob 's eyes return to the pink slip. He finally finds his voice. "Twenty-two years of my life I gave to that company. I gave them my flesh and blood. What about this scar on my cheek? I'll carry it until the day I die. I was loyal, hardworking, prompt and neatly attired. What kind of Scrooge lays a person off right before Christmas?"
Betty jumps to her feet. "Listen, dear, we can pull through this. I'll get a job. I'll take back all the Christmas presents. "
"And what will we tell the children when they wake up tomorrow morning with nothing under the tree? "
The baby whimpers. Betty sighs as she drops onto the sofa and absently rubs his back. "We'll blame it on the Grinch, or...or tell them we just found out Santa imported all their toys from China. What kind of parents would let their children play with toys full of lead and melamine? They'll understand.""I'm going to go down to the shop and let them know they can't treat people like this. Where's my gun?"
"You don't own a gun, dear."
"Well, lucky for them."
"Where are you going?"
"Doesn't Henry have a B-B gun?"
"You can't take that. You'll shoot your eye out."
"Well, then, I'm going down to the shop and make mean faces."
"Oh, sit down, please. Going down to the shop and making a fool of yourself won't do anybody any good. Besides, things might look up in a few months and they'll be hiring again. You don't want to blow your chances.""What? You think they won't hire me back just because I set fire to the shop?" But Bob sinks back into his chair; if he must fume, he might as well do it in a good comfortable fuming chair. Although even the most comfortable chair is little comfort when you're the father of five, the family's sole breadwinner, and you've lost your job one day before S. Claus is due with his pack full of toys.
"What am I gonna do now?" he frets. "How am I going to support all these children?"
"We'll think of something. We always do."
"If I could afford the shipping to Rebraska, we could return them."
"You don't mean that!" Betty exclaims, and of course he doesn't, really. Bob is proud of his family, but when you've built your self-identity around your prowress as the breadwinner, when you see your role in life as the provider, the loss of a job is not merely a bump in the road. It's a threat to who you are.